Andy’s Quick Hits (106): Mothers Can Pass on Stress to Future Generations

Andy Hab
2 min readOct 18, 2021

I presume you’re not just talking about stressed mothers stressing out their kids and/or grandchildren?
Not precisely. I’m talking about passing on stress activation patterns in DNA genetically.

Oh, that doesn’t sound good!
No it isn’t good. We have known for quite a while that so-called epigenetic change seem to be passed on to offspring.

What’s epigenetic?
All genes need to be activated and can be activated in different ways. Epigenetic markers are not a change in genes but how the existing genes are activated or not.

Ok, and this can be passed on?
Yes, the researchers from the University of Iowa, found out the precise mechanism. Clever things they are. But it is complicated. Basically instead of cleaning the hard drive, so to speak, and resetting genes, a protein released stops this “cleaning of the hard drive” and instead of the genes being reset the stress is passed on. Specifically in this case being present in unfertilised eggs.

And what changes?
In this case, Quote: “One of these newly silenced genes encodes the insulin receptor, which is central to metabolic changes with diabetes in humans, and which, when silenced, alters an animal’s physiology, metabolism, and stress resilience.”

Is this big news
Well, as I said, we already knew some of these things can be passed on. For example previous research has shown parents who have been though periods of starvation add an “eating” gene activation and this is passed on to children who are more likely to become obese. Read about that here.

Oh wow? So we should look after ourselves because the damage we do to yourselves can be passed on to our children.

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Srijit Das, Sehee Min, Veena Prahlad.
Gene bookmarking by the heat shock transcription factor programs the insulin-like signaling pathway.
Molecular Cell, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.molcel.2021.09.022

Andy Hab

Sharing fascinating, fun, and important knowledge on the brain and human behaviour - most days. And masters track athlete - still going strong!